Japanese dance students at Stephens College prepare for performance
December 3, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST
Sachiyo Ito, center, leads her Japanese dance class in a walking exercise at the Historic Senior Recital Hall at Stephens College. The students will be giving a free performance at the school on Friday.
COLUMBIA — Sixteen pairs of socks danced across the wooden floor, peeking out beneath
16 yukata, a lightweight kimono. The socks pointed and stretched between jazz steps.
Sachiyo Ito, whom the students call "sensei," called the class to
attention, the white socks with pink heels, the blue anklets, the yellow and blue argyles and the
mismatched pink and blue socks all halted, then tucked underneath legs
as the students knelt in the Japanese style and bowed until their
foreheads touched the floor.
If you go
What: Japanese Classical Dance Lecture Demonstration
When: 12:30 p.m., Friday
Where: Kimball Ballroom inside of Lela Raney Wood Hall, 6 N. College Ave.
Call: Carol Estey at 876-7211
These 16 pairs of socks belong to the
senior and second-year students Ito teaches at Stephens College. For one
semester, she is teaching three classes on traditional Japanese Kabuki and Noh dance. Some of these students will
join students from Ito's freshman and nondance major classes to
perform on Friday.
Stephens dance students are required
to take one world dance class every semester. For eight weeks this fall, students have been learning Japanese dance from Ito, who has been
recognized as a cultural ambassador of Japan for spending 40 years teaching Japanese dance in America.
She runs a dance studio based in
New York City and her not-for-profit organization Sachiyo Ito and
Company provides one-day and one-week workshops across the country.
"I'm hoping they can learn something very new," Ito said. "Not only the dance form but also the culture."
began dancing at age 6 in her birthplace, Tokyo. She earned her teaching certificate at
18 and taught while attending college. At 22, she moved to New York, where she's lived since, except for a trip home once a year. She meets with her own sensei for advice, because, as she told her Stephens
students, "Learning dance is a lifelong process."
"I am grateful I have someone criticizing me," Ito said. "The worst thing as a dancer is if your teacher says nothing."
teaches Okinawan dance as well as the more commonly known Kabuki and Noh. Okinawa is an island
to the south of mainland Japan, and Ito wrote her dissertation on Okinawan dance and has traveled there several
times to study.
Her classes at Stephens focus mainly on
Kabuki, a form of theater originating in the 17th century in Japan. In
Kabuki, a shamisen player accompanies a vocalist who sings the words to
the play in a dynamic, drawn-out voice. Onstage, men act out the
story with dramatic gestures and facial expressions that became Kabuki
Noh theater predates Kabuki and is more symbolic, Ito said.
the seniors in Ito's class, the Japanese style of dance changes the way
they think about movement and technique.
Kirstie McDermott explained that Japanese dance is more artistic and
less athletic than the Western styles of dance.
"It's emotional," she said. "It's acting using your expression."
said her greatest challenge of teaching American students is to stop them from
"moving around so much." She stressed to her students to be
centered and control their movements.
During one piece, they must
take large, heavy steps by bringing their knees up to their chests and stomping. Ito
stepped in front of the class to demonstrate. She raised her leg
perpendicular to her waist with the knee bent a perfect 90 degrees, then kept it that way for at least a minute — perfectly still from the waist down as she twisted to face the class while she explained technical aspects
of the movement.
In a dance called "Sakura" about one of Japan's most famous
cultural symbols, the cherry blossom, she reprimanded
the class for being too stiff. The yukata requires tiny steps, but Ito
wanted the movements to flow.
"In Japan, they say it takes
10 years to just walk properly," she said while making the
demonstration look easy.
The first thing the students practice is walking. Wearing a yukata or kimono makes
walking more difficult because it constricts leg movement, forcing
the wearer to take short, deliberate steps, heel to toe, placing one
foot directly in front of the other.
As they slowly glided across the room, the dancers'
faces got shiny with sweat from the November sunlight pouring through
the floor-to-ceiling windows in the dance studio. Except for
the sound of socks brushing the floor, the room was silent. They then knelt and bowed deeply
to the person they call "Ito-sensei," their whole forearm touching the floor.
wore practice yukata that are mostly faded blue and white patterns, but
everyone will wear new, matching yukata for the performance.
"It's really fun to learn different types of dance," Kelsea Deshazo said. She said that the dance is challenging but that Ito is a patient teacher.
Ito's purpose is to expose people to Japanese dance who might not have
seen it or tried it before. Her company in New York didn't have any
performances this season, so she thought this was a good opportunity to
come to the Midwest. She performed at the Missouri Botanical Gardens
Japanese festival before but otherwise hadn't spent much time in the Midwest.
"It's a fun location to teach in," she said. "It's rare for the Midwest to have contact with Japanese culture."
As part of class, she showed videos of Noh and Kabuki performances and talked about the
history and costumes of the theaters. She also teaches her students
about Japanese art, culture and aesthetics.
"Dance is not just steps but also learning about life," she said.
She sees dance as a way to share time with others in a "beautiful and spiritual" way.
"Dance is like a flower — as soon as you see dance, it's gone after," Ito said. "It is sudden, but. all the more. it makes the art beautiful."